A Clinic Today Keeps the Cobwebs Aways

Working across the street from a show barn has its benefits – like regular clinics to help tuneup my riding. However, it took me two years before I actually signed myself up because I figured that others who were competing could benefit more. Thankfully, Linda was my trainer when I was a junior and insisted that I participate at least once – for old time’s sake.

Since I moved to Connecticut, my rides have averaged a total of 25-30 minutes and take place at either 6:30 am or 5:30 pm (before or after work hours). When it came to the day of the clinic, I felt somewhat out of shape and worried about my horse’s stamina (or maybe just my own!).

If you seriously competed – in any sport – I’m sure you still have your coach’s voice in your head, yelling certain “words of encouragement”. For me, that voice has always been Linda’s and those words of encouragement include:

Get it done – TODAY! Impulsion, Impulsion, Impulsion. Do it again to make sure it wasn’t a mistake. Don’t just keep going, understand what’s going on.

Those words in my head, and the words I suddenly experienced myself hearing in person again pushed me through the two hour clinic no matter how much my back was screaming at me.

Walking Through the  Clinic

We started the clinic warming up – working on transitions, circles, pace, bend, light seat, and impulsion. After a few serpentines at the trot, we stepped into the canter and completed the shallow serpentine in the new gate.

This challenged our horses to maintain their balance and their canter lead, especially at the top of the serpentine when the horses had to hold a slight counter-bend. For my horse, Honey, it’s much easier for her to do a lead change than hold a counter bend or lead. While this exercise was more difficult for her, it forced her to balance using her hind-end and she became much softer and more supple.

The next exercise was a set of two ground poles set six strides apart. Honey loves to run and pull when it comes to anything she can jump, poles included. I tend to hold her back on the approach to offset her “go” on the landing. Instead, Linda encouraged me to ride her out of pace and correct her in the middle of the line to make the six strides work. I was allowing the bad behavior to occur by covering it up instead of correcting it.

You can see my correction in the middle of the line during the video, as well as her grabbing the bit and leaning against my hand after the second pole. Below, Linda works on my canter corrections, coaching me to “elevate my hands higher than what’s comfortable” to keep Honey’s head up and shorten her stride.

After working through our canter corrections and canter poles, we began warming up over a single fence. The reason I included our warmup jump video is because you can see where the corrections we practiced on the flat clearly apply to our work over fences. As soon as I land, you can hear Linda say, “elevate your hands – higher, higher!”.

Next, we started on a combination down the other long side. It was set to be ridden in a quiet four strides to an even quieter four strides with an oxer in the middle. Again, you can see the flatwork interwoven in this combination as we jump in out of pace (a little long), make the corrections between the jumps, and then do our flatwork on the landing. Linda wouldn’t let us walk until Honey had shortened her stride and come back to me because, the training after the jumps is just as important as the training over the jumps.

What I love about Linda’s lessons and clinics is that she’s purposeful in the sequence of exercises. Each exercise builds on the other and eventually they come together to create a course of jumps that shows you how much of the lesson you have retained and mastered.

We continued to build the course and challenged ourselves to maintain our position and our integrity despite fatigue in a final course of the clinic. As you can see in the video below, Linda adds a circle before we finish our final line of the course. Honey was building in pace and beginning to get away from me; Linda always tells her students, “every time you get in the saddle you are teaching your horse something – you are always training”.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to ride the ride you get. A circle wasn’t part of the course, but my ride got away from me. Had I kept going, our last line would have been a fight to get done. The same goes for the halt at the end – typically you finish a course with a closing circle, but I had to fight to get the last four strides so allowing Honey to continue building would only teach her that it was okay. By using a halt as a correction, she will [hopefully] learn to come back to me after the jumps.

I hope my clinic videos have been able to help explain a few things:

  1. Flatwork is just as important as jumping – and should always be weighted equally.
  2. Whenever you get on, you teach your horse something – make sure it’s something good.
  3. Clinics are beneficial for all riders, even if you don’t compete!

P.S. For those of you adults who also experience back pain while riding, I highly recommend consulting a chiropractor. Since I started my adjustments I’ve been able to ride without pain for the majority of my rides.

What to Wear to Your Riding Lessons

*affiliate links may be included in this post to give you an idea of my recommendations and what brands/types of apparel items are a good start to creating your equestrian wardrobe.

As an instructor, first-time equestrian parents frequently ask me what their children should wear to their riding lessons. While many facilities don’t have a dress code, there is some merit to dressing appropriately for your lessons.

There are four main elements to an appropriate riding outfit. While equestrian apparel has influenced fashion on the runways of Milan, Paris, and New York, the clothing we’re talking about today is also functional for both the rider and trainer.


Breeches

I currently live in North Carolina; a state that remains 90 degrees (F) or above for 70% of the year. I understand why many riders come to the barn in shorts and tank tops. However, I also have scars up and down the inside of my legs from not wearing proper pants for my riding lessons. What you don’t realize, until it’s too late, is that the leather from the saddle can cause rubs and blisters.

Thankfully, there are a lot of options for breeches:

  • Real breeches, either high or low-rise.
  • Riding tights.
  • Jeans

Breeches

breeches-comparison-chart

As both a trainer and a rider, I will only ride in breeches unless I’m unexpectedly getting on a horse and only have jeans in my car. The problem with riding tights is that they can be slippery and are generally deemed, “unprofessional.” While jeans are more acceptable than tights, the fabric is coarse and can damage the leather of your saddle over time. 

Benefits of Breeches for the Rider

Breeches are designed for riding in an English saddle, so they provide extra grip for your leg and are sewn without irritating seams to account for the regular pressure, friction, and position while riding. Breeches also come in a variety of styles depending on what discipline you’re in, and there are a variety of colors that you can choose from.

Benefits of Breeches for the Trainer

As a coach, I need to be able to see your position while riding. Breeches are fitted and provide a middle seam in the back so that I can see where your hips and seat-bones are in the saddle.

If you are planning on competing, you will be required to wear breeches. In my experience, competition brings out nerves and anxiety that students don’t realize is there. Getting used to dressing appropriately and wearing breeches in your lessons alleviates a lot of stress in a competition. More than that, they make riding a little bit easier, and it helps your trainer give more accurate instruction.

Recommended Breeches:

Ariat Women's Prix Breeches
Ariat Women’s Prix Low Rise

Shop Ovation Kids Hunter Seat Breeches
Ovation Kids Hunter Star Breech

Boots

Sometimes my beginner students will come for lessons in rubber boots or sneakers. Though the only requirement for shoes is that they have a smooth sole with a slight heel, I’ve found that riders struggle to find the correct position when wearing non-equestrian footwear.

What many new riders don’t understand is that correct position isn’t meant to make you look pretty (though it does help), rather, it’s intended to keep you safe and allow both you and the horse to have a quality ride. The foundation of this correct position is in your heels.

Exercise Break! #squatchallenge

Take a minute and do a proper squat.

Your knees should be over your feet but not passing your toes, with your heels supporting the bulk of your weight allowing you to slightly lift and wiggle your toes. Your hips should be pressing back, engaging your quads while your core engages in supporting your lower back and opening your chest. If you’re at the bottom of your proper squat, with your weight in your heels and someone tries to push or pull you in one direction, you’re able to keep your balance and adjust your weight to keep from falling.

When your boots aren’t designed for riding, it inhibits your heel from stretching down far enough. This keeps you from creating your base and may even cause your foot to slide out of the stirrup.

My recommendation is to wear paddock boots to your lessons. If you are under the age of 13 and are jumping fences that are 2’3” or lower, you can wear paddock boots with your breeches. However, if you are 13+ years old OR are jumping fences higher than 2’3”, then you also need to wear half-chaps along with your paddock boots.

I recommend wearing half-chaps no matter what age or riding level because they provide added protection to your legs against any rubbing that may be caused by the stirrup leathers.

Recommended Boots:

Shop for the Ariat Scout Paddock Boot
Ariat Women’s Scout Zip Paddock – Black
Ariat Girls Scout Zip Paddock – Black

Shirt

Depending on your barn, you may already have a dress code requirement for lessons. Regarding rider benefits, the shirt you wear won’t matter to you, but it will affect your trainer’s ability to see your position and give you accurate feedback.

Always choose a fitted shirt, regardless of style. When you wear baggy shirts while you ride, the wind will pick it up and cause it to blow out behind you. This makes it nearly impossible for your trainer to see how you carry your shoulders and the curve of your spine.

As both a rider and trainer, my preference for shirts during lessons is either a polo shirt or a sun shirt. When I’m schooling on my own, a fitted t-shirt is ok, but I usually ride with a collared shirt regardless.

Ariat Women’s Team Sunstopper 1/4 Pullover
Ariat Women’s Women’s Sun Stopper 1/4 Zip Pullover (Solid)

When I was competing as a Junior (under 18 years old), my trainer required us to wear a collared shirt whenever ‘lessoning’ or schooling out of respect for her and the barn we represented.

My final note on shirt choice is to make sure you tuck it in and wear a belt. Tucking your shirt in ensures that it won’t be picked up by the wind and will create a finished, polished look.

Helmet

Helmets for Horseback Riding - Protect Your Noggin!

This is the most important item for a rider, and I’m surprised at how many parents will have their children wear school-owned helmets for years.

They are expensive. However, a helmet that doesn’t fit properly won’t necessarily provide the protection needed in the event of a fall.

Have someone at a tack shop help you pick out an appropriate helmet. When you try it on, make sure it fits snug with your hair in a low ponytail. You shouldn’t be able to move the helmet by shaking your head or looking in different directions.

When you put your helmet on for your lesson, make sure your hair is pulled back and out of your face. I was required to wear a hairnet for every lesson, and I still wear one every time I ride. While your hair doesn’t have to be up, under your helmet for lessons, the hairnet will keep any wisps of hair out of your face and protect your hair from breakage.


Part of your equestrian attire is about looking professional and ready to learn. However, a greater part of dressing for your lessons is about protecting your body and giving you the best chance to succeed.